We kicked off our 2011 meeting schedule February 10-11 with our first CIO Advantage meeting of the year. The group is comprised of IT leaders from forward thinking firms who are committed to fortifying the alliance of technology with firm strategy. As is the case whenever this group gets together, there was no shortage of valuable information being shared. I’d like to share the key trends and lessons learned from our discussions.
More Optimism for 2011
We started the meeting with everyone providing an update on what is going on at their firm. Although there were a couple exceptions to the rule, the general trend was one of optimism for 2011. The widespread budget cuts that were the norm in 2009 and 2010 have, for the most part, eased. In fact, the discussion zeroed in on the fact that most firms have so many projects for 2011 that they are bypassing the normal "freeze” period on new projects during busy season. The general feeling was in line with what we’ve been hearing for the last several months, things are getting better but by no means will it be a quick recovery.
I was pleased to hear a room full of CIO’s providing an optimistic outlook on the future. I believe that we can all help to sustain the economic recovery by thinking a little more positively and help our clients do so as well. For an interesting read on optimism, check out Gary Boomer’s article,
It is Time for Optimism, from last month’s Boomer Bulletin.
I.T. Strategic Planning & Budgeting
We dedicated one of our sessions to discussing I.T. strategic planning and budgeting processes and here were some of the key takeaways. First and foremost, we discussed how trust is critical in developing a plan and budget that will have the leadership backing necessary to ensure success. And, it takes time to earn the trust of the executive committee members – it’s not something that happens overnight. Second, communicating the plan is just as important, if not more, than developing the plan itself. Clearly articulating the alignment between I.T. initiatives and the firm’s objectives is critical.
There were also a number of budgeting tips that came out of our discussion. Some of the best advice included:
- Don’t give too much detail – you are asking for budget approval from accountants. A far too common mistake is to provide line-item details to the executive committee. When you provide a group of CPA’s with a spreadsheet full of numbers their natural instincts will take over and they’ll look for ways to squeeze savings out of the budget. Providing only the important numbers such as IT spend as a % of revenue and % change from last year can make the process much smoother.
- Separate out the "must have” recurring items – A large % of the annual I.T. budget is comprised of software costs and a lot of these are maintenance fees for tools the firm cannot do without. Why not focus on the items that are up for discussion rather than muddying the water with expenses that are part of normal operations.
- Share major projects that are new (and what dropped off from prior years) – breaking out the new projects for which you are asking for budget dollars can help create a clear picture of what is above and beyond what was approved the previous year. At the same time, pointing out the projects that were completed or no longer important highlights savings that make the pill a lot easier to swallow.
We assigned the book "Switch: How to Change Things When Change is Hard” by Chip Heath and Dan Heath prior to the meeting. We also discussed "Change the Culture, Change the Game,” by Roger Connors and Tom Smith. A couple of key takeaways from both the books as well as our discussion were:
- You have to change the beliefs and thinking of your firm before you can have successful change. We often focus too much on changing the actions/behaviors and don’t get the results we want or expect. To make a long-term sustainable change in the firm, you have to alter the way people think.
- In any change effort, we tend to spend the majority of our effort on the "problem children.” We spend countless hours trying to convince the biggest opponents to the change. While we can’t ignore the detractors we need to focus more time on supporters who will embrace the change and become champions within the firm. Results are the best way to convert detractors into supporters and the best way to gather results is to get some champions using the new system, process, etc.
Although the goal of the CIO Advantage program is to develop business skills beyond technology, we do have a session each meeting where the group shares new technologies that have been valuable in their firms. Here are just a few of the items that were shared:
- Goalscape – if you’re using mind mapping software, you might want to check out this tool. Eric Benson used it to capture notes during the meeting and left many of the CIO’s ready to buy. (www.goalscape.com)
- Lastpass – we’ve mentioned this password management tool a few times at the Boomer Technology Circles and use it internally at Boomer Consulting, Inc. Greg Davis shared how this useful tool has saved him and many professionals at Kennedy & Coe a ton of time. (www.lastpass.com)
- Docusign – Peter Henley had mentioned this at our last meeting but they were just rolling it out. It is basically a tool for electronic signatures and Clark Nuber is now using it for all engagement letters. (www.docusign.com)
- ShareFile – this secure file transfer and portal tool has been around for a while but Peter Henley also shared that the company has just rolled out ShareFile Sync. This has replaced Colligo Contributor at Clark Nuber and according to Peter they are one of the best vendors to work with (www.sharefile.com)
- Zagg Cases for iPad /Verbatim Bluetooth Foldable Keyboard – if you’re looking for a Bluetooth keyboard for your iPad, these are two recommendations from Marc Staut at the Reznick Group. The Zagg case is a case/keyboard combination for your iPad. The Verbatim device is simply a Bluetooth keyboard but it folds in half for easy transport. (www.zagg.com and www.verbatim.com)
- 99Designs/eLance – if you’re looking to create or revamp a logo or develop a graphic that communicates your service offerings, you should check out the crowdsourcing sites like 99Designs and eLance. We’ve recently used 99Designs and the process (and results) were quite impressive. (www.99designs.com and www.elance.com)
The CIO Advantage – Another Successful Meeting!
This was probably our most successful CIO Advantage meeting thus far with an abundance of valuable information sharing taking place. Our second group will be kicking off later this year with the first face-to-face meeting after the BTC Summit in August. If you’re an I.T. professional looking to develop your business savvy skills and are looking for a program that will drive you toward your goal, you should check out The CIO Advantage program.